section hiking

Brushing Your Teeth in the Woods

Whether you're headed out for one night, one week, or even half of a year you're going to need your toothbrush and toothpaste.  While brushing your teeth at home isn't really something you have to even think about much, on the trail dental hygiene is crazy important.  This post is going to be dedicated to the one subject no one ever really talks about and most hikers skip - how to keep your teeth and gums healthy outdoors. 

Before delving into the "how to" section of this post, I'd like to mention common dental issues that hikers can face.  A friend of mine, despite all her brushing on trail, ended up with three cavities after a 6-month hike.  Considering the amount of high sugar and high fat foods, along with carbonated and sickeningly sweet drinks a hiker consumes, it's no surprise that even with regular brushing cavities are a common problem. Another thru hiker I know had a molar crack completely in half and fall out while consuming her dinner one night.  Thankfully, she was a short way from a town where she was able to be seen by a dentist on an emergency basis.  Commonly, plaque buildup can cause gingivitis - a swelling and bleeding condition of the gums.  Having a bloody mouth while you're trying to eat boiling hot and incredibly salty food is never a fun time!  If any of these scenarios don't sound like fun to you, you're not alone.

Saying that most hikers don't brush their teeth regularly is not a shock to many of us.  It's been a long day and all you can think about is eating your dinner and crawling into your bag.  If you aren't keeping your toothbrush in your food bag, chances are you've skipped this important action more than once on trail.  The number one way I advocate to remember to brush your teeth is exactly this: keep your toothbrush, toothpaste, and any other oral hygiene items in a Ziplock in your food bag.  If they're close at hand when you're cleaning up your dinner, you won't forget to brush!  Since your brush and toothpaste smell like foodstuff to mice and bears, leaving it in your food bag is an even better idea so it can go in your bear hang/bear can at night. 

Since we've talked about an easy way to remember to brush, let's talk about the toothbrush and paste you're carrying on trail.  Many hikers opt for a travel toothbrush because of its small size and weight.  Alternatively, if you have a brand or firmness of brush you prefer to use at home, you can cut the handle off to make it travel size yourself.  A tube of travel-sized toothpaste will last you easily 2-3 months in the backcountry.  Dental floss picks are also a popular item on trail due to their small size and disposability options.  These come in handy after a meal that just doesn't want to come out of your teeth!  Options I don't recommend on trail are single use disposable finger brushes, which are often expensive, heavier, and not so great at cleaning teeth.  

So you've picked out your brush and toothpaste of choice.  Is there really a proper way to brush in the woods?  Actually - there is.  For brushing in the backcountry, you're going to use a LOT less toothpaste than you normally would.  I recommend just a small dab in a thin layer on a dry brush.  This way, there won't be too much to spit out onto the ground.  After brushing as you normally would, the "spew" method is the most taught in Leave No Trace principles.  We recommend you spray it, blowing a wide area of toothpaste as to  not concentrate a large glob.  Also, if you're out in the woods, digging a cathole is an acceptable method of disposing your extra paste.  The final method taught by Leave No Trace is to swallow it.  Yes, I said to swallow your toothpaste.  Keep in mind that you aren't using even a quarter of what you're probably using at home.  I always use toothpaste without fluoride anyway, so that isn't a concern for me.  Tom's of Maine is a great non-fluoridated brand available here on 

Did you experience any dental problems on your long-distance hike?  What is your method of keeping your teeth clean in the woods?  Leave me a comment here on the blog or over on my Facebook page and let me know!

How to Train for a Long-Distance Hike: Advice from an AT Thru Hiker

You’ve planned to do a long-distance hike.  You’ve done your research and bought your gear.  Now all you need to do is get out on the trail, right?  What you may not have thought about is the fact that you might need to do a little more than just put all your gear on your back and start walking!  While some people actually do their first hike ever with all their gear on their backs and walk 2000+ miles, chances are many others who never hiked before quit before their first week is even over.  Having confidence in your abilities will greatly help your chance at success on a long-distance trip.

Start Walking-
While most people consider a long hike a vacation, it’s actually one of the hardest jobs you’ll have.  You will be walking most of your waking hours, covering upwards of 20 miles a day sometimes!  The first step to getting into shape for a hike is to walk.  Start slow and build up your miles gradually.  Once you can do a few miles, try to get out and hike on actual trails, as walking on pavement and walking on a trail are two totally different experiences for your body.  When I first started hiking I knew I could walk easily 2-3 miles, but get out on the trails and you’ll find that you might be hurting in places you didn’t know you had!

Add Some Weight-
Once you start getting in the miles, add some weight to your walk.  Put on a backpack and fill it with water bottles to give it some heft.  Try to take 5-10 pounds in the beginning, gradually getting to your full overnight backpack.  Then, start taking it on trails this way.  Again, you might find that the easy 8-10 mile day hike is totally different when you have 25 pounds on your back!

Don’t Forget to Stretch-
I encourage hikers to try and incorporate a few gentle stretches into their evening routines and post hike rituals.  While you may feel like a total weirdo doing stretches in camp at night or in the parking lot after a long hiker, an important part of keeping your muscles strengthened is helping them recover.  Try to learn a YouTube beginner’s yoga video and try to do it after each time you walk.  Yoga stretches can also help you build your core strength, which is a lot more important during hiking than most people realize.

Remember to Take it Easy-
You’ve learned how to hike with all the weight on your back and now it’s time to test out your skills.  Go out on a practice trip, called a “shakedown” by hikers.  Pack up your gear and do a backpacking trip for a night or two.  Testing out your gear and your trail legs is a great way to build up confidence for your long-distance trip.  Give yourself plenty of daylight hours to get to your destination and take as many breaks as you feel you need.  A steady pace will help you build your endurance for the longer days ahead.

Now that you're in hiking shape, make sure you're trail ready!  Check out my posts on how to pack your backpack, gear you should leave at home, and even how to avoid and treat common hiking injuries.  Of course, after you do all that, make sure you thank your support crew in advance for all the work they'll be doing for you while you're away!

Do you have a long hike coming up in the near future? I’d love to talk with you about it!  Find me on Facebook or Twitter and we can talk about it.